I’ve been thinking about this subject for sometime now. When recent events prompted me to write I spun out over a thousand words on the subject. (I’m rushed, please forgive any typos.) That’s a bit long for a blog post so I’ve split it into a short version here and then the long version in the “Read the Rest…”.
Short version: Leftists believe that elitism arises from wealth and only from wealth. Non-leftists believe that elitism arises from the belief in an intellectually and morally superior of a minority. Elitists demonstrate their elitism by their lack of respect for the decision-making ability of others.
They confuse compassion for their “lessors” with respect for the decision-making ability of those same people. Leftists view themselves as superhuman with the same relationship between themselves and the rest of the population as the relationship between adults and children. Since they have no respect for the decision-making ability or ordinary people, they seek to elect fellow extraordinary people, i.e., supermen, to political office.
Leftists hate Palin and non-leftists like her for the same reason: She represents a wide swath of Americans. She’s not a superman. Leftists can’t believe anyone would seriously elect an ordinary moron to the highest office in the land, instead of a superman. The same goes for McCain. Despite his wealth, people believe he would make the same decisions as an ordinary American.
The election comes down to whether people think of themselves as electing a superior person, someone who will make different and better decisions than ordinary Americans, or whether they think of electing someone who would make the same decisions that an ordinary American would make.
[Update:(2008.9.18.13:51): Sometimes, it falls right into your lap. Read this before reading the long version]
Leftists simply cannot understand why people say they find leftist elitist. For the contemporary American left, who remain mired in 19th-century European political thought, a person becomes an elitist only by virtue of possessing wealth. The comments from the Left on this Riehl World View post [h/t Instapundit] demonstrate this clearly.
The Left simply does not understand a key facet of culture in contemporary America: Elitism isn’t about money. It’s about respecting the beliefs and decisions of others. It’s about believing you are intellectually and morally superior to others.
As a thought experiment, take two people, call them Bob and Steve, and make them identical in income, education, religious belief, economic accomplishments, political ideology, core values etc. Say they both have middle-class incomes or less. No one on the Left would call either Bob or Steve elitist. Now, suppose Steve wins the lottery and becomes a multi-millionaire over night. According to the Left, Steve becomes an elitist over the course of that night even though he still thinks the same way as does the non-elitist Bob.
Now take a second case. Call them John and Bill. In this case, Bill is much richer and better educated than John but they share the same core values, go to the same church, like the same sports/leisure activities (maybe they both like to hunt) etc. Despite their differences in wealth, both John and Bill make the same decisions on most political matters. For example, they both have the same views of abortion, family values, the Iraq war, free-market vs. government, taxes etc. For the non-leftist, Bill is not an elitist because he thinks the same way as John. Bill respects John’s decisions because John makes the same decisions that Bill makes.
Now, take a third case. Call them Ted and Dick. In this case Ted and Dick share little in common save they have the same income. They have different values, different religions, different ideologies. On issue after issue they make different decisions. Moreover, Dick and friends never pass up an opportunity to express just how stupid they think Ted is for not thinking as they do. They openly deride Ted for his religion. They mock his ideas about everything from personal values to foreign policy. Ted’s income does not matter to Dick and friends. If Ted has more money than Dick, Dick says that Ted is evil, greedy and exploitative. If Ted has less money, Dick says that Ted is a hapless victim of circumstance and only holds his beliefs and values out of ignorance.
Obama and the rest of the post-’60s American Left are Dick(s). They think Dick is not an elitist because, like them, Dick seeks to help out poor-Ted in the manner that Dick, not Ted, thinks best. Non-leftists think Dick is a elitist because Dick believes he belongs to a minority that possesses vastly superior decision-making ability as compared to the majority.
Obama and the other leftists cannot see their elitism for two reasons. Firstly, post-’60s American leftist thought is heavily crypto-Marxist. In Marxism, income (economic class) defines an individual’s entire intellectual and moral outlook. For a Marxist, a rich and poor person cannot hold the same values. They take it as axiomatic that the rich scorn the values and beliefs of the poor. Needless to say, in America, the land of the self-made millionaire, where those same millionaires brag about how poor they were when they started out and pride themselves on holding middle-class values, the Marxist assumptions mean little. (Indeed, they most likely never did, even in Europe.) Yet, still they believe that McCain is an elitist because of his wealth.
Secondly, Obama and other leftists confuse compassion with respecting the decisions of others. We all deeply love people whose decisions we do not respect. We love children, the elderly in their dotage, the mentally challenged and pets. We love them so much we will lay down our lives for them without hesitation. Yet, because we love them, we feel obligated to override the decisions they make and substitute our own decisions at any time we decide it best to do so.
Obama and friends view themselves as the only adults in a world of children. All these children blunder through life making all kinds of stupid decisions and doing childishly cruel things. These children desperately need adult supervision. Obama and friends see it as their obligation to care for these “children” and to force them to grow up into “adults” using the violent force of the state.
They cannot hide this belief in their own superior ability. When Obama made his comment on people in rural areas “clinging to God, guns and fear of people unlike them” he wasn’t being intentionally mocking or cruel. He was an adult explaining to other adults why those “children” behaved (voted) the way they did. He thought he was being understanding and compassionate. He and other leftists cannot honestly understand why anyone would resent the remark.
Palin galvanized and polarized the election and in doing so brought leftist elitism into stark relief. Non-leftists like Palin for the same reason leftists hate her, i.e., she seems like an accomplished, but otherwise ordinary, American. Many Americans, regardless of income, race, sex etc. see themselves in her. They can imagine that if things went a little differently, they could have been the ones on the podium. Leftists hate Palin because of her ordinary nature. The leftist seeks to elect a superior person, someone more intelligent and moral than the majority. This desire explains their obsession with educational and other credentials. They want someone who has traveled the world, who speaks many languages and who has many ideas and beliefs that ordinary Americans never thought of.
Now we can see the distillation of the difference in attitude between the Obama/Biden ticket and the McCain/Palin ticket. Obama/Biden say, “Vote for us and we will honestly do what we, with our superior intellects and morality think is best for you”. Conversely, McCain/Palin say, “Vote for us and we will make the same decisions you would make if you, personally, got elected to the presidency”.
Vote McCain, and you’re hiring a proxy, someone you appoint to make the same decisions you would. Vote Obama and you’re selecting a paternity figure, someone to take make decisions for you.
This election you get to decide what kind of society you see yourself living in. If you see yourself as an adult in a nation of children, vote Obama. If you see yourself as a child that needs care, vote Obama. If you see yourself as an adult in a world of adults and you just want another adult to do the same job you would in their shoes, vote McCain.
Until leftists can say, “I respect the decisions of ordinary Americans”, and make ordinary Americans believe it, they face an uphill battle in national elections.